ScienceMercury Risk in CFL Light Bulbs

Mercury Risk in CFL Light Bulbs

How to Safely Dispose of CFLs and Clean Up Broken Bulbs

Compact Florescent Light (CFL) bulbs are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they also contain a dangerous toxin: mercury. If these light bulbs break, they can be harmful to your health and the environment, so you’ll want to know the safest ways for clean up & disposal.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Make sure people and pets leave the room and air out the room for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Shut off central air conditioning, if you have one.
  3. DO NOT VACUUM! This could spread the mercury vapor into the air. Scoop up broken glass and powder with a stiff piece of paper or cardboard. Use a strong, sticky tape (e.g. duct tape) to pick up any remaining fragments. If you absolutely must vacuum because the bulb broke on carpet and you cannot pick up all of the pieces, keep the room well ventilated, use the vacuum’s hose (if possible), and then clean the vacuum thoroughly after use.
  4. Wipe the area clean with disposable wipes (for hard surfaces). Place all waste materials (wipes, tape, cardboard, broken glass fragments) in a glass jar or plastic bag.
  5. Allow the room to air out for at least 2 hours.

If the bulb is dead but in tact, the Hawai’i Department of Environmental Services suggest a few options to dispose of it. One easy option is to wrap the bulb in newspaper and dispose of it with regular household trash. A better option is to take advantage of The Home Depot’s free service of recycling intact CFLs! Home Depot’s instructions state: “Simply head in the direction of the returns desk and locate the orange recycling container that is designated for CFLs. Place them in one of the provided plastic bags and drop them into the container. You have just successfully done your share in recycling a CFL bulb. The Home Depot then takes on the job of ensuring that the bulbs will be handled by an environmental management company that will safely organize the proper packaging, transportation and recycling of the CFLs.” You can find a Home Depot drop off in Pearl City, Kapolei, or Honolulu.

You can also find more options to dispose of these bulbs on the ENV website:

Although CFL light bulbs are energy efficient, the best option is to switch to LED bulbs. LED bulbs are more energy efficient than CFLs and do not contain mercury. Our Ecosystem in Hawai’i is very sacred and fragile. Let’s all do our part to make sure that we keep this place safe & clean for our keiki!